Pantami: A Continental Change Icon

By Uwa Suleiman

My very honourable and esteemed boss, the Minister of Communications and first ever, of Digital Economy, Professor Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, has again, broken the internet and recorded yet another very significant first. Another feat which like all others preceding it, brings national acclaim and global recognition to Nigeria in particular, and Africa in general. In the last couple of years, he has become the symbol of undeniable change. In a society where ineptitude, self aggrandisement, corruption, pretentious discretion, learned lawlessness and senseless resistance to progressive change seem to have a free rein in the most unexpected quarters, HM Pantami came along and disrupted the norm. The magnitude of change and the impact of his leadership capabilities is a shock to those who are stuck in the doldrums of yesterday.

His Excellency, Professor Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami FNCS, FBCS, FIIM, MCPN has just been appointed Chairman of the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) 2022 by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). This historically positions him as the first Nigerian to ever serve in this capacity. In conveying and justifying this appointment, the Secretary General of the International Communications Union (ITU) said “In light of his overall commitment to information and knowledge societies and the active role he has played in WSIS.”

The Professor of Cybersecurity is a catalyst for change and operates an impactful leadership style. HM Pantami does not hide behind the ease of short term, one-hit-wonder-glories. He conceives strategies that hitherto didn’t exist and follows through from draft to implementation with matchless focus. This article is an attempt to highlight the resounding impact of the Professor’s leadership. It is not enough to focus on the various novel policies, projects and strategies he has established as in my humble opinion, they limit the scope of his achievements. I shall however mention in passing some of these history-altering strategies to lend credence to my assertions.

I will broadly categorise them into two. Firstly, the redesignation of the Ministry to include the “Digital Economy” nomenclature and secondly, The National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS) initiative. These brilliant ideas form the bedrock of HM Pantami’s foundational change.

Within a little over two years in office as the Digital Economy driver, Nigeria has seen the offshoots of the aforementioned translate into sixteen policies, some of which are already in full effect and some at various stages of implementation. Nigeria is well on its way to compiling its first comprehensive data base and like it or not, essential services are becoming more accessible, less cumbersome, transparent and efficient. Earlier this year, I was flagged down by officers of the Vehicle Inspection Office (VIO) on my way to work, on one of those mornings when the clock seemed to be on a marathon and everything that could slow you down was in full effect. Within the less than a minute that it took me to park properly and retrieve my vehicle documents, the officer waved me on saying “madam your papers are up to date you can go” I didn’t understand what just happened and in spite of my hurry, I asked how he knew without even looking at them. Then he pointed to the official vehicle parked a few metres away. “We checked it out on our system” That is what a digital society feels like – efficient, effective and transparent.

Before January 25th 2019, the Nigeria Data Protection Regulation (NDPR) was non-existent. It took the intervention of my boss as the then Director General of NITDA, to initiate a clearly strategic policy and nurture it to a full fledged, functional public parastatal today. (The story of NDPR and the Nigeria Data Protection Bureau (NDPB) is a discourse for another day), but suffice to state here that, that singular action inspired a revolution about data protection in Africa.

Professor Pantami is a known advocate of skills. Particularly, digital skills and he has continued to ensure unprecedented investments in digital skills without going cap in hand to anybody but by meticulously and doggedly laying an unshakeable foundation which like a flower in bloom, is attracting the bees. Besides the numerous digital skills training programmes he has initiated for various institutions and individuals, he has ensured sustainability by establishing institutions and policies that guarantee continuity. The first of its kind in Africa, functional National Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics which has become a breeding ground for innovators and innovations is to his credit. The Nigeria Startup Bill is still generating excitement in the ecosystem just understanding its potential. The National Assembly is dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s (if any) and the most supportive bill yet specifically geared towards the unhindered development of an indigenous ecosystem would be birthed and of course, there is the almighty 5th Generation network deployment.

Thanks to the unprecedented level of awareness and consciousness brought about by Pantami’s relentless campaigns and initiatives, nothing is, and will ever remain the same again. Agriculture, Education, Health, Commerce, Finance, Aviation, Entrepreneurship, Manufacturing, Security, Communications and most importantly the business of Governance. Everything is changing. All the elements and factors are keying into the enabler- technologies.

The ripple effects of what I have enumerated thus far, is a game changer for any economy. The World Bank Diagnostic report on the Nigeria Digital Economy expressly states that “As the biggest economy in Africa, Nigeria is well positioned to develop a strong digital economy. This would have a transformational impact on the country”. Besides potential and resources, the main vehicle for transformational impact is leadership. Focused, intentional, result-oriented leadership. And this is the void Pantami has come to fill and he is doing it like he was born for it. He is equipped with the capacity to lead, the bravery to chart new courses, the will to insist on doing it right and the resilience required in these peculiar climes to ignore distractions and stay the course. Professor Pantami if nothing else, has shone the light in a very dark tunnel and paved the path to the realisation that a digital economy is the enabler. The awareness has been created and the response has been overwhelming.

Currently, the focus like never before is on Nigeria’s digital economy and I am talking on a global scale. Thanks to the intentional leadership and vision of the Honourable Minister, the offices of the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy has become a breeding ground of viable ideas and a Mecca of sorts for egg heads who understand and share the future he is bent on bringing to reality. The world is excited about Pantami. Like a phoenix he rises through the most patriotic actions we have witnessed in these climes. While we bicker and waste precious time and energy debating on the rather mundane and ridiculous, the world is embracing this symbol of change. On a daily basis, global corporations, tech giants of repute, policy makers of no mean repute, diplomats, royalties, captains of industry, Private sector investors, security chiefs, throng to his office seeking collaborations and partnerships that we had only hitherto read of happening in other climes, with Nigeria. These are verifiable facts as there are investments which prove renewed faith in the country owing to the breath of fresh air Pantami epitomises.

The world knows that this is a man who must be taken seriously by all accounts. The world sees Professor Pantami as Africa’s game changer and is responding in like manner. Easily the most performing Minister in Nigeria today, he has attracted the most investment through his sector into the country.

Microsoft for instance, just established the Africa Development Centre in Lagos, Nigeria. This is a multi million dollar investment that has given impetus to the Minister’s capacity building initiatives. This Centre, is going to be a melting pot of the best innovations Africa can boast of. At inception, Seven Hundred innovators trained to be trainers were already on ground. On a working visit to the Honourable Minister, on 1st April 2022, the President of Microsoft Corporation Mr Brad Smith said “We are excited about Nigeria in part because of your leadership and your role in the digital economy plan and we are willing to invest in Nigeria because we are confident in your digital economy drive.”

On the 14th of February 2022, the European Union (EU) came calling. Leader of the delegation, Executive Vice President, Her Excellency Margrethe Vestager was excited to announce an Eight Hundred and Twenty Million Euro investment through its Global Gateway Initiative, in the digital economy sector in key areas like digital infrastructure, entrepreneurship, skills and governance because in her words “the leadership of the Honourable Minister has restored confidence in the country’s digital potential.”

The world trade ambassador Dr A.M AbdulHamid on a working visit to HM Pantami on the 8th of March 2022, said “the purpose of our visit today is to applaud and appreciate you for your role in the transformation agenda which you have introduced into this country. With the transformation you have brought, especially with the introduction of the digital economy, the future of e-commerce in Nigeria is guaranteed.” I have lost count of how many ambassadorial delegations have paid homage to my boss’ office seeking to ingratiate their countries into his transformational policies through various partnerships and collaborations.

My Boss HM Pantami is an uncommon leader, the type that a people are blessed with generationally. Patriotic to a fault, unusually selfless and futuristic in his vision. When my boss says “Nigeria is not about West Africa but about the continent as a whole”, I see exactly what he means in his actions. It is easy to recall that Pantami inspired the enactment and implementation of the Data Protection Regulation across Africa. Countries like Ghana, actually sent delegations to interact with us and learn from him how to move forward with data protection in their various domains. When he speaks at global fora, he represents Africa not just Nigeria. Every single personality whom I have been privileged to welcome into my boss’ esteemed offices has attested the the Nigeria Digital Economy Policy and Strategy document as a continental game changer, one way or the other.

I am personally exhausted with the maxim that “a prophet is not recognised in his own home”. Let us be the country and the generation that recognises and honours and supports its “prophets”. Before HM Pantami’s incursion into the Nigerian public sector, we all dreamt and yearned for a messianic figure who can bring about the much needed change. There is no spirit-like being who will descend on wings to come and perform magic. The change makers are human, they are living, breathing, ordinary humans like our HM Pantami. What sets them apart is what they do and how they do it. Now we have Pantami. It is up to us to recognise, support and honour our own before the world snatches him away from us. When we were unaware we had an asset of this valuable magnitude, it was forgivable to be blissfully ignorant. But now that we know, it will be unforgivable to lose him to any other country in the world.

And trust me, the world is watching, waiting and hungry for that opportunity.